Stand Up For Labour Party Democracy Rally – a JVL statement

Sunday’s Stand Up For Labour Party Democracy rally was called specifically to build a movement in solidarity with those unjustly suspended and to stand up for free speech and democracy in the Labour Party. It brought together leading trade union and Labour Party activists to campaign around those goals, launching a petition defending our right to legitimate discussion; for reinstating the whip to Jeremy Corbyn and for withdrawing the unjust suspensions of dozens of CLP officers and members.

Jewish Voice for Labour’s co-chair Leah Levane was on the platform. A transcript of her speech appears below.

We are aware that there has been a lot of social media activity about the dropping of one of the advertised speakers. We understand that the organisers of the event were placed in an invidious position once they were told that some of those billed to speak would withdraw if a particular representative of the Save our Socialists campaign stayed on the platform. Following a decision to ask the comrade concerned to step down, some of the organisers have been subjected to personal online abuse. This is unacceptable and we stand in solidarity with any comrade who suffers in this way.

However, there is a point of principle at stake here and we wish to make our position clear. Denying a platform to anyone is an absolute last resort for behaviour so egregious that there is no room for doubt. Normally it is reserved for those promoting fascist views. It should not even be considered for those whose opinions we simply disagree with – however strongly. This is even more the case when the views in contention are not the subject of the meeting in question. As the antisemitism witch hunt has demonstrated, allowing any of our comrades to be pilloried for the views they hold on contentious subjects is a recipe for disunity and disaster. The right to free speech is an essential core value within our movement. We abridge it at our peril.

The party leadership is showing no sign of winding down its threats to democracy in the party. As FBU general secretary Matt Wrack said at the end of the rally,  it is essential that discussions within the movement are conducted in a comradely and constructive fashion. “How can we respect different people’s views but nevertheless unite around things on which we agree?” he said. “We need to have some frank discussion about this.”


Leah Levane’s speech (starts at 1.07 on YouTube)

I am involved in two organisations; Socialist Councillors and Jewish Voice for Labour.  Both are absolutely committed to democracy in the Labour Party and to the left wing policies developed while Jeremy Corbyn was Leader and which, let us remember, Keir Starmer promised to continue when he stood for the leadership.

As others have said, we need those policies to address the crisis.

How Labour operates, seen or described as being on the left of British politics, spills out into wider UK society and, indeed beyond these islands. It cannot be acceptable to treat those with “unpopular” ideas by suspension and silencing and encouraging self-silencing within the Labour Party. We must ask the question, if Labour treats its own activists so badly why should Labour be trusted to treat the citizens of this country better?  Treating members fairly will be part of winning back people’s confidence.

And these members are the backbone of the branches and CLPs, who do the leafleting, doorknocking, run street stalls as well as, so often, being fully involved in key local campaigns, from supporting striking workers, helping run mutual aid projects, supporting women’s rights, Black Lives Matter actions, LGBT communities, refugees and asylum seekers; resisting all forms of racism and “othering” and much more.  These are absolutely the actions and policies of Socialist Councillors, fighting the Tories at local level.

Within JVL, we see the attempts to silence us (and our allies) as though we are “the wrong sort of Jews”.  And some have had no option but to take the party to court, along with some non-Jewish comrades.  I urge you to find out more about and to support Labour Activists for Justice.  It is appalling that we have to resort to  the law to get justice in what is supposed to be a democratic Labour Party.

We have seen, over the last five years, the mere accusation that a Labour Party member may be antisemitic has been enough to get them suspended, disciplined and vilified; Note JVL has never demanded and will never demand the no-platforming of those with whom we disagree on this issue and are very concerned that we do not use the model used so far as the way to address other equally important issues; let us instead opt for genuine discussion, for different points of view to be respectfully voiced and respectfully listened to; that we should provide information and base decisions on facts, taking into account different perspectives, rather than seeking to silence those with whom those who have the most power disagree.  That is what Starmer and Evans are doing. We must not emulate them, we have seen where that leads.

But most important is winning back the policies that can address the crisis. We need to take on the ruling class, and offer real solutions to the appalling injustices so many of us are facing; not least the increasing poverty and widening chasm between the richest – getting richer, despite COVID  – and the poorest – for whom COVID has only made their already insecure (at best) situation much worse.  70,000 people have been evicted during the pandemic despite the (temporary) ban.  Yet Annelise Dodds, in a speech of more than 6,000 words about Labour’s Economic Policy direction, seeks only to reassure the City, and does not, for example, mention the issue of housing even once.

Gemma and others have already referred to the flag-waving and I won’t go into that; suffice it to say that last week’s Party Political Broadcast brought me close to despair.

Comrades, we have both Everest and K2 to climb. I urge us to organise, educate and empower. To fight in defence of the suspended socialists so that we can continue to fight in defence of socialism and to advance socialism. We are angry and we have to respect and channel that wholly justified anger.

And to stand any chance of improving people’s lives, we need a United Front; this does not and cannot mean that we agree on everything; nor does it mean resorting to lowest common denominator politics; it means we fight together where we do agree and we do not fall into a trap, for example, of labelling as hate speech where we disagree. There is no room in our movement for denying a platform to anyone other than fascists. We focus on education, we put the work in, we listen to different perspectives, to learn from those whose lived experiences are different from our own.

And we agree on so much – standing against austerity, racism, privatisation, war, cronyism and greed; and standing FOR peace, democracy, free speech, secure and decent homes for all, for equality, for compassionate and fair treatment for refugees and asylum seekers, for quality public services and much more.

There are groups and some individuals who are not here and it is never possible to include everyone at every event but they should be included going forward.

I am reminded that 90 years ago, Brecht and Eisler wrote “Soldiaritatslied”. This is the 3rd verse: – I think, despite losing something in translation, that it says it all:

“And our various Lords and Masters, welcome our disunity, for so long as they divide us, Lords and Masters they will be.

Forwards and let’s remember what our strength is and always will be, in hunger and in plenty, forwards, let’s remember, it’s solidarity.”


Sunday’s rally is available to view on YouTube –Leah Levane’s speech starts  at 1.07)


Note:

JVL recognises the salience of the issues round trans rights, but also the existence of deeply opposing views on the subject. There are other places where this discussion can take place, and we will not be hosting a discussion about trans rights or the Gender Recognition Act on this comment thread.

 

Comments (5)

  • Jewish Voice for Labour says:

    JVL recognises the salience of the issues round trans rights, but also the existence of deeply opposing views on the subject. There are other places where this discussion can take place, and we will not be hosting a discussion about trans rights or the Gender Recognition Act on this comment thread. 

  • Joanna Bornat says:

    Thank you for taking that stand. I was a signatory to a statement from some
    Haringey members who said they would not attend the rally because the speaker was dropped.
    Being able to read Leah Levane’s speech is most heartening.

  • Anthony Hagger says:

    I attended the meeting and Leah gave a excellent contribution to the meeting.

  • Perhaps the most sinister aspect of this clamp down on free speech has occurred during CLP meetings. I have read at least two descriptions of one or a small group of members who have been vocal in their denunciation of what has been discussed at the meeting. This has resulted in the chairperson being almost immediately informed of suspension for having breached Evans guidelines on what we may or may not discuss. It is obvious from the timing that those who raised objections have immediately chosen to inform “the powers that be” of “transgressions” against these draconian rules.
    It would seem that informants are now used and actively encouraged by certain sections of the Labour Party. I do not need to point out just how notorious and dangerous this practice is.

  • I am pleased that you have condemned the no platforming of Esther Giles because of her alleged views on trans rights. It needs emphasising that No Platform is a tactic to be used against fascists and those who physically threaten our democratic rights and no one else.

    As we can see with the affair of the Tories of St Peter’s College and Ken Loach the Right is ever willing to no platform anti-racists and socialists and what happened to Esther plays into the hands of such people

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